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History Of The Fair

The Early Years: Salo’s Corner

The Embarrass Region Fair has been a mainstay of the area for more than 80 years. In fact, it is difficult to pinpoint when the first Fair was held. The Embarrass Farmer’s Club (the forerunner of the Embarrass Region Fair Association) organized social gatherings and sponsored friendly competition on the property where today’s Town Hall, playground, and tennis courts stand (Salo’s Corner). It is not known when these “gatherings” began or how many were held, but records show that in the early 1930s, eight townships were included in exhibiting home canning, handiwork, and farm crops. Other displays included livestock, poultry, and the latest in farm machinery. Entertainment included baseball, talent show, shooting gallery, speeches, and the climax of the weekend was the dance. These activities have all the markings of a “Fair,” but officially, the Association credits the beginning of the “annual” fair with the year 1939.

1939-1991: Embarrass School No. 70

Embarrass School No. 70 was built in 1935 and opened to students in 1936. It was located between the baseball fields on Highway 21; today a commemorative stone engraved with the words “Old School” marks the location of the school. The school property became the fairgrounds in 1939.

The Fair used two areas of the school: the kitchen and the gymnasium. The gym was used for a dance with live music both Friday and Saturday nights. People came from miles around to whoop it up and dance at the Embarrass Region Fair.

The kitchen was run by the Gloria Dei “pie ladies” who served their famous stew and, of course, homemade pies. Some years lunch was served by the Embarrass Evangelical Lutheran Church in the school cafeteria. As attendance at the Fair increased, so did the number of people standing in line to get food. The Association really ruffled the feathers of the pie ladies when they invited Barb’s Fried Bread to set up her food truck on the grounds. Barb did not pay anything to be at the Fair that first year, but she did so well that at the end of the Fair, she gave the Association $75, and a long-standing tradition began.

During the day, all activities were outside and included a softball tournament, a horse show, animals, a tractor pull, and the consumption of several kegs of beer. The Laurentian Tennis Tournament was held at the Town Hall tennis courts, harkening back to the days when that property hosted the Fair. In 1940 Bertha (Lamppa) Niemi was crowned as the first “Potato Queen.” The next fair queen was not crowned until 1955, likely because of World War II.

A full list of Fair queens can be found HERE.

One long-time fairgoer remembers a year (perhaps in the late 1970s) when a pilot from Orr with a stunt plane offered rides for $25. At that time, today’s fairgrounds were a potato field, and the plane was able to land and take off in the field.

In 1970 the school was closed due to school consolidations in the area. The Fair Association was allowed to use the building for the Fair, but in the end, the leaking roof and general disrepair forced the Association to look for another venue. The Old School was razed in 1993.

1991-Present: Timber Hall

With the old school becoming less viable as a venue for the Fair, the Fair Association bought the former potato field across from the school in 1986. With that large piece of property available, parts of the Fair moved across Highway 21, the Fair expanded, and plans to build a multi-purpose building for the community began. With resounding community support and volunteer spirit, the Timber Hall was completed in 1991. With an expansive space now available the Fair was able to bring in more entertainment including a carnival and even a Ferris wheel. The Ferris wheel was set on the level piece of land that now houses the exhibit buildings.

Over the years, the all-volunteer Embarrass Region Fair Association has strived to provide a space to bring the community together in friendship and friendly competition. Some things have stayed the same. Agriculture and animal husbandry continue to be a focus of the Fair. Adults and youth display homegrown agricultural products, canned or baked goods, and arts and crafts much as they have for the past 80+ years. The softball tournament, races/games for all ages, classic car and truck show, horse show, run-walk competition, and the parade have all been around since the very beginning of the Fair.

At the same time, some things have changed. The local church ladies selling homemade stew and pies from the school kitchen, have been replaced by food vendors on the fairgrounds; dances in the school gym have been replaced by live bands and a karaoke contest; and the horse pull exhibition, tractor pull, talent show, tennis tournament, and horseshoe tournament have been replaced by a 4 x 4 mud run and fast track, a demolition derby, and a cornhole tournament to name a few. The flea market has evolved into crafters and commercial vendors who sell their wares in the Timber Hall building. The Team Penning and Ranch Sorting competition is a cattle and horsemanship event that continues to draw competitors from the region, but the event has moved to the weekend before the Fair.

Although today’s Fair may look a little different than its predecessors, the spirit of the Fair has remained unchanged; it is the last hurrah of summer and still has the feel of a family reunion.